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Don't Bet Your Youth


A group of Texas teen-agers recently spun the dice - and they lost. Ten students at Dallas Carter High School in Dallas, including members of the state championship football team, turned to armed robbery, ostensibly to cover gambling losses in high-stakes dice games. Several pleaded guilty and now face prison terms.

Some of the students told the Dallas Morning News that gambling is widespread among their peers and often runs into ``big money.''

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The Texas caper comes in the wake of national reports that betting among teen-agers is sharply on the rise. The National Council on Compulsive Gambling says that the United States may be headed into a decade where gambling will be the ``addiction of choice'' among young people.

In the 1960s, the compulsive gambler was typically a middle-aged white businessman, reports the National Center for Pathological Gambling, but now treatment programs are often sought by teen-agers and those in their early 20s, who are deeply in debt from betting, sometimes suicidal, and often threatened by bookies.

Valerie Lorenz, the center's executive director, says the increase in state lotteries and other legally sanctioned games of chance is making more people, including teen-agers, gambling addicts. She says that public promotion of lotteries is making it easier for susceptible people to get hooked.

When a hot-line number of New Jersey's Council on Compulsive Gambling was posted on lottery machines statewide, one early caller was a 15-year-old boy who said he had been spending about $35 a week on tickets for two years. He was referred to a local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous.

A New Jersey official says that although lottery playing is illegal for those under 18, many teen-agers not only bet, but bet way over their heads. The New York Times quotes Arnold Wexler as saying, ``[S]tudies show that 96 percent of those treated for compulsive gambling later in life began gambling before the age of 14.''

Another study by St. John's University found that 91 percent of New Jersey high school students interviewed participated in some form of gambling. More than half went to casinos, and many regularly played the lottery. A similar survey of students who attend college in the vicinity of Atlantic City showed widespread casino betting by those under the legal age.

What does all this tell us?

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First, there appears to be a betting craze among the young that may be just as addictive as alcohol and drug use.

Second, authorities may be turning their heads when youngsters under the legal betting age seek to play the lottery or frequent gambling casinos.

Third, the urge to get-rich-quick is just as strong among youth as adults, and states - under the aegis of increasing public revenues - unwittingly entice the young into games of chance that may ruin their lives.

The studies show that compulsive gambling cuts across age, education, and socio-economic status. Popular students, athletes, and academic achievers seem to be just as vunerable as others. A common thread appears to be families where great emphasis is placed on money and material things.

A society that emphasizes chance and holds up to its youth the glitter of instant gratification shouldn't be surprised about the lure of gambling. The development of spiritual values at an early age, on the other hand, could well beat the odds and the agony of the point spread.

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